Disclaimer: I am the developer of this game. Which makes it a conflict of interest that I would write a review. But given a lack of written scored reviews elsewhere, I felt it best to write something to make sure people know what they would be getting into should they buy the game. It also acts as a release for me, a psychological exercise after releasing my first game. In the meantime, there are a variety of preview posts and playthrough videos online that I encourage you to check out.
“Drew and the Floating Labyrinth” is a hand-drawn 3d puzzle platformer. That’s the tagline and elevator pitch the game goes for. “Puzzle” and “platformer” are common genres, especially for the indie scene. But “hand-drawn” and “3d”… after a little thought, that comes across as a contradiction. All hand-drawn art is 2d by nature, how could it possibly be 3d?
You don’t really get a sense of what this means until you see it in motion. Even better, download the free demo and play it for a few seconds. The visual style is exactly what it sounds like, and also much simplier than you probably anticipated. The main character, a young girl named Drew, is drawn from multiple angles, front, side, top, etc., with one of those perspectives visible at once.
The effect is… interesting. On one hand, it shows the first application of traditional animation in a not-2D-game (technically, JRPG “Time and Eternity” attempted this first but with a fixed perspective, and thus felt forced and awkward compared to this). So many beautiful 2d games have been made in the last several years, and this opens up a wide range of possibilities. It’s a shame that the art style is restricted to the two characters in the game, and isn’t used to a great effect.
The game is about a young girl named Drew who simply finds herself in a strange empty environment. All she sees is a block she stands on, a block in the distance, and much farther away, something that appears to be her home. Each level brings her closer to her home, which she sees as an escape from this strange place to a place she knows. To help her, a flying bird will appear and give the occasional banter and clue.
How exactly does she get to the blocks in the distance? Each level is a basic platforming level that you can walk or jump through, but everything is invisible. Multiple types of clues in each level give you hints of where it is safe to walk. Thus, unlike most platformers, you need to take your time with them and look at the level from odd angles. A good excuse to see the many different angles of your main heroine’s model.
While the character art is ok (it resembles simple art you might see in a children’s book), the environments are almost entirely bare, made up of blocks with pencil shading or solid color. The levels do look a little more interesting much later in the game, but overall are much too simple and it feels like a huge missed opportunity. If you do love traditional animation like those old Disney movies, you’ll spend more time dreaming of what other games could be made like this instead of gushing over this particular one.
The level design based around each level being invisible is clever, but also not well realized. The variety of clue types feel arbitrary and too simplistic. It also feels like there are too many levels, especially in the beginning, that are too easy, while the difficulty and complexity spikes in the second half. All of it based around walking and jumping, and nothing else. To offset later difficulty, the levels are very forgiving with checkpoints, and you don’t have to complete every level to advance to the last level. But this all feels like a odd contradiction of extreme ease and difficulty, making it impossible to classify this to be better suited to a specific age or audience. Only the most patient and hardcore of puzzle fans would want to finish every level. The most recent version adds the ability to snap the camera to a certain angle by holding a button, which does help a bit with perspective jumping at least.
The music is generally solid. It can seem a little repetitive after hearing the same track over multiple levels, but overall there’s plenty of variety that extends the atmosphere and leaves an impression. Drew and the bird both have voice acting, which feels a bit rough and unnecessary at first, but feels much more impressive later in the game, surprisingly good for such a small project. Any issues with the voice acting is probably a fault of the script, where the actors have nothing interesting to say for most of the game. The majority of lines are variations of “where am I” and “who knows,” a lost opportunity to reveal a lot more about Drew, which is ultimately thrown on you at the very end.
Oh yes, there is an ending. The story doesn’t matter until the end (whether or not focusing on gameplay over story for the majority of the game was a wise move is hard to say), but ends up as one of the best parts of the game. It isn’t special other than the surprise it gives, suddenly making the game feel more meaningful than it would otherwise. It also offers a glimpse at a somewhat unique view of what happens when you die, leading to a somewhat ambiguous ending. If you do play the game, you owe it to yourself to make it to the end before giving up on it, not unreasonable within a couple hours.
Oh, and never mind the menu system. While it appears to be ideal for touch screens, the gameplay won’t work on mobile or touchscreen devices. The options menu in particular looks like it was thrown together in a day, and doesn’t work with a mouse. It’s like the developer wants you to use a gamepad or a keyboard alone, despite otherwise making the mouse and keyboard combo a fitting option within the levels. Sloppy and ugly.
Overall, the game is fraught with potential, but most of it squandered and at the fault of the lead programmer and designer. Not that it isn’t any good or not worth checking out. The visual style is new, and the gameplay and story concepts are solid dispite being incomplete, making this stand out a little more than your typical indie game. It’s just disappointing that it didn’t reach a higher plane, something that a few iterations and longer development time would have cured, whether or not that time was available to the creators.
6.0 out of 10.0
(find out more about the game at http://drew.fromdustscratch.com )